Friday, January 29, 2010

What Did Your Kids Eat for Breakfast? Thoughts on the Mon for Beshalach

Teaching seventh grade Gemara first thing in the morning at the Akiva Hebrew Day School back in Michigan, what was the greatest factor which would determine my success or failure in the classroom? Was it my ability as a teacher? Sure. But along with my ability to teach and control the classroom, it was also clear that the kids would need to be alert, attentive and ready to learn. And often they were not, even first thing in the morning. I would often find my pubescent, pre-teen charges vacillating between hyperactivity and listlessness, overdrive and lethargy. What caused these wild energy swings? Was it their moodiness and the challenging age-level? Partly. But I believe that it also had a lot to do with what they ate for breakfast.
Parshat Beshalach relates the story of the mythical Mon (מן - I never know how to transliterate that word into English), the mystical every-food that rained down on the Children of Israel in the desert. The Midrash relates that among the mystical Mon's magical qualities was its ability to taste like whatever the eater wished. Pizza? Sure. Roast beef? Why not. Roast beef on pizza. Why not - it's all pareve. (Kind of makes you think that the Mon had a lot in common with soy.) Yet, Kli Yakkar adds that the Mon allowed the Jewish people to focus on spiritual growth during their time in the desert, because the Mon alleviated two critical problems that detract from one's ability to grow closer to God.
The first problem with "normal" food is external: you have to work to produce it, whether you produce the food yourself or work to earn money to pay for that food. That time expended working for our "daily bread" detracts from the time we spend in spiritual pursuits. The Mon easily resolved this issue, as the Jews expended no time working to produce the food they needed to live. It arrived almost on their doorstep, neatly wrapped in a protective dew-like wrapping.
But food itself carries Kli Yakkar calls an "internal" aspect that prevent growth.
מבית הוא מצד מאכלים גסים המפסידים זכות וברירות השכל, עד אשר כח שכלו עובר בעמק עכור ואינו זך לעסוק במושכלות...והמן היה אוכל רוחני כל אוכליו ניצולו מן שני המונעים אלו...הן מבפנים כי היה מאכל זך ונקי מכל פסולת
Internally, this due to the fact that heavy foods detract from the clarity and purity of the intellect, until a person's intellectual ability passes through a valley of fog, lacking the [required] purity to engage in intellectual matters...and the Mon was spiritual food, so that those who ate it were saved from these two detractions...including the internal [detraction] for it was a pure food, clean from all impurities.
Kli Yakkar notes that the Mon's miraculousness emanated not only from its origin and its simple presence each and every day. God also created the Mon as the ideal food for spiritual growth. It didn't give you a sugar high, only to have you fall crashing down to exhaustion in the middle of your first-period Gemara class. It wasn't full of fat and refined grains, leaving you feeling bloated and unable to learn.
It was healthy, tasty, filling and lean, leaving you energized and ready for a long period of spiritual growth.
True, we can't give ourselves or our children Mon for breakfast. But if you wonder why you (or they) are so tired in the middle of the morning, ask yourself this: what did they have for breakfast? If the answer is either (a) Nothing (b) Sugar cereal - or most any breakfast cereal for that matter or (c) snack food - very common among kids - stop wondering.
And start eating - and feeding your children - a healthier, and more spiritually encouraging breakfast.